Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mountains, Valleys and Marathons

Humility is realizing that a lovely, smiling grandmother, a race walker and several hundred people of all shapes, sizes and ages have just left you in their dust in a half marathon.

The very idea of walking 13.1 miles, let alone running it, wouldn’t have occurred to me a year ago. Now a participant medal and my bib number, #1051, are attached to my home office bulletin board. April 17, 2010. It’s kind of surreal.

So are the thoughts that go through your mind during a race of that length — and sometimes the blankness of your mind — while bystanders ring bells and hoot and clap and the scenery changes from neighborhood streets to rough trails to parking lots.

I had a mix of music for the run that ranged from pumped-up Black Eyed Peas to gutsy Barley Girl. Half the time I didn’t hear it as my mind chattered on about an upcoming incline or annoyance at losing my pace in a sudden jam of runners.

Halfway through the race you start to bargain and give yourself pep talks. “I can make it to the next mile marker.” “Okay, I can make it to the next sign.” “Okay, the next person who starts walking…I can catch that person!!!”

At times you are alone. Then you are in a crowd. Then a different crowd. Then alone again.

You get mad at yourself for not training harder, for being slow, for thinking too much, for not having more fans cheering you on, for being envious of the faster runners.

Just when you think you must be one of the last people to get through this unbelievable trial, somebody shouts to you: “Quarter mile; you’re almost there!” “Finish right around the corner!” Something in you revives. You believe you’re going to make it. Your legs start to pump, you hear the music again and run down a chute to cheers and clapping and someone announcing your name.

You find out later that a few people didn’t finish. They signed up. They trained. But they either didn’t show up or didn’t finish what they started. That, too, is humbling.

Standing on the other side of the finish line, I felt a bit surprised. Did I really just do that? Could I do it again? Could I do it better now that I know the terrain, the pace, the obstacles and opportunities? Lord, I hope so.

I hate to make the tired comparison that a long race is just like life, but there are too many similarities to discount. I don’t know if I’ll ever run that distance again, but it is one of just a few times (so far) when I have been simultaneously humbled and overjoyed.

Now take that mountaintop experience and translate it to the every day ordinary encounters, the project deadline, a struggling friend, the housework, a sick child or community need. To be simultaneously humbled and full of joy in those moments is a much better measure of success.

When I am at the end of my life (yes, the final and ultimate race), I hope to look back with both humility and joy. I want to be surprised by my capacity to love, work, apologize and forgive. If I have a cheering section, I hope it comes from heaven. And when I meet my God, I hope he announces my name.